Archive for the ‘Music News’ category

Hair Changing 101

November 23, 2009

It’s been some time since I’ve checked in, and much has happened in the meantime.  I’ve finished the second semester of my Masters program, Mason turned one, I’ve made trips to Newcastle and Canberra for Rotary, friends have visited from the U.S. and New Zealand, and yesterday Deanna had her thirty-fifth birthday, just to name a few. Crowding all of that our of our minds at the moment, though, is our upcoming adventure in India. We leave tomorrow, and I have much to say about that, but first, a bit of silliness that we need to cover in order to move on (in order to avoid quite a few “huh?!?!” comments later).

After over twenty years with long hair (my entire adult life) I took radical steps last weekend: I shaved my head.

I had been chewing on the idea for at least a couple of years. Partly because I was losing the battle anyway and comb-overs just never did it for me.  I like the idea of embracing change when it comes (though I do better with it at some times than others), so it seemed like the right course of action.

The particular timing, though, was due to the fact that I am leaving for India tomorrow to spend some time working with a Gandhian aid organization there, and though it is winter in India, the forecast low for tonight in the town we’ll be living in is 79 degrees.

More compellingly, we learned some interesting things about our lodging in recent email correspondences. We had been told that we will have a private room to share between myself, Deanna and Mason, and that we will have a private bathroom. Thinking about bathing our one-year-old, Deanna asked in a follow-up email whether the bathroom has a bath or a shower, and we learned that actually it has neither. It has a bucket and a mug. That is the normal way of bathing in India, apparently, and bathtubs are generally only seen in hotels. That’s fine with us, but it did provide a good reason to finally take the proverbial plunge.

My friend David Stuart makes documentaries, and he brought his camera and gear to my other friend Dave’s house where we did the deed. He shot this brief documentary (thanks David!).

Dave James, whose house we were at, is a semi-pro photographer, so things were well documented in stills as well (thanks Dave!).

We invited everyone at the party to have a go with the clippers, including 4-year-old Hani (with some spotting from Aunt Maree).

Several friends who heard I was going to do this expressed concern for how our one-year-old Mason would react, so we made sure that he saw what was going on and felt OK. The sound of the clippers seemed to scare him at first, but I stopped to hold him and laugh with him and let him know everything was OK throughout the process and he did just fine. He especially enjoyed patting my head when it was over. The next morning when he saw me he didn’t even look surprised. He reacted more or less like I had changed my shirt.

And on the whole, Mason’s reaction seems indicative of most of our friends’ and family’s, and my own for that matter:  I look a lot more like me than I expected to.  In short, it hasn’t been nearly as drastic as I thought it would be.

The whole thing happened rather spontaneously, so I didn’t have much time to organize a big fundraiser, but we did put the word out on Facebook that people could bid for my hair on Facebook. The money went to the non-profit that Deanna and I founded to support school and library projects in Guatemala, PEG Partners, and the hair went to an organization called “Wigs for Kids,” which provides free wigs to children who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy or other illness. We raised about $900, which in Guatemala pays for about three-quarters of an annual school teacher’s salary. Not bad for a few hours’ fun on line.

I’ve been really enjoying the new style, not to mention the very short showers. In the end, I guess the change is really representative of so many other good changes in my life lately. Much to celebrate.

As I write these words we have 21.5 hours to go until we leave, turning the page to another chapter which promises to be exciting, challenging and powerful. Being finished with my second semester of the masters program, I’m in the groove for writing, so I look forward to keeping this spot up to date as things unfold in India. Thanks for staying in touch.



Police Covers

June 25, 2009

On my most recent record, Change, I covered a song by the Police, Walking In Your Footsteps. I was just alerted to a cover song blog that featured that track in a collection of Police covers, and another that features Police and Sting covers by folk artists specifically (that site didn’t feature my track, but did recommend it). I thought I’d point you to these blogs in case you happen to be a Police/Sting fan like me, and might find these takes on their songs interesting.

A Taste of My Old Life

March 26, 2009
From random blog photos

Let your voice ring back my memories

Sing my songs to me

– Jackson Browne

It’s a strange thing to suddenly be a student. My life is filled with writing papers and reading articles and books, other people’s schedules and agendas.

That’s very, very different from the last eighteen years of living very much on my own schedule. And though there were no shortage of deadlines in the old days, they were of a different nature.

The funny thing is that it all seems quite natural, and that I’m thoroughly enjoying it. The classes are tough and head-stretching, but that’s good news, not bad. I’m enjoying the reading and the writing and even enjoying the public transportation most of the time, though it takes much more time to get from place to place.

Still, I miss singing songs for people. I miss long road trips, believe it or not. I’ve never minded long drives. It’s a good opportunity for solitude, to muse and ponder and be still in motion; it’s a good balance to the intensely interactive and open time around and during concerts. Of course I’m happy to have a significantly smaller carbon footprint than I used to, but I can’t pretend I don’t miss long hours on the highway.

On a deeper level, I miss connecting with others’ hearts in that particular way and sometimes seeing a tear in someone’s eye; I miss the conversations after the show when I hear the stories that people need to tell that were stirred up by certain songs. And I especially miss staying up to ridiculous hours of the night (or morning) after shows are done, passing guitars around with other musicians (since musicians tend to hang out at places where music is played) and letting others’ songs flow through my own heart, as so often happens after a show. Sharing music isn’t just entertainment to me; it’s catharsis and healing, whether I’m on stage or in the audience. It’s how I sweep out my heart.

So when I got an invitation last weekend to come downtown to hear a folk show that a woman I know, Maree, had helped organize, I was excited to accept. It was being held at a Catholic church here in Brisbane that’s been in the news given their troubles with the Church over their ecumenicism and progressive politics, and I was interested to check it out.

Maree and her beau David picked us up, and we all got there quite early. As it turned out, the church service was still going on, so I got to join them, and it was nourishing to be there. Deanna, meanwhile, took Mason for a stroll, as he was tired and a little too fussy for church.
Then the service broke up and the concert began. Mason was having a hard time, and we reluctantly decided that Deanna would take him on home, but I stayed to hear the rest of the show, and one song in particular.

From random blog photos

Tommy Leonard singing at the concert

The concert was a fundraiser for mental health projects, and Maree had explained that she had been putting on similar shows for about five years, some in Melbourne and some in Brisbane, and that at each one she had performed my song Hold On. As she explained it, she had encountered the song years before at a time when she really needed it, and she claims that it literally saved her life.

So at the end of the night, as the first encore, four other musicians joined her on stage and they played a lovely version of my song while I sat in the audience and listened with a homeless African man named Immanuel who had wandered in and joined me. The song had just the right feel as well as the right notes, and all the more depth for his company. What an extraordinary thing to hear it in this foreign country, and to know that it had been sung here for years, on nights like this one, while I was far away and unaware.

And then the concert was over, Immanuel left and pockets of conversation formed briefly before people went their separate ways. One of the guys who had performed that night, Tommy Leonard, mentioned that a few of the musicians and their friends were going down the street to an art gallery a few blocks away. There was another musician who is also a painter and had an opening at the gallery, and they were going to go see if he was still there and up for a song.

So suddenly I found myself in a circle of songslingers with a couple of guitars being passed around, and bottle of wine on the table, a keyboard over to one side and laughter and music flowing freely. The lights on the paintings made things too bright, so they were exchanged for the ambient light of streetlights and stoplights through the requisite large gallery windows, open to the night air.

I played four or five songs over the course of the night, and listened to many more than that. Two Irishmen, two Brits several Aussies and me, the token Yank (I know, it sounds like I’m setting up a joke…), spoke poems and sang to each other and with each other until we made our way into the hours with just one digit instead of two.

It was good to be home among my tribe.

I’ve been writing a little, and playing some around the house, and I’m trading guitar lessons for babysitting with a doctoral student at the university, and I’m sure I’m not done playing music for people. Still, I think it’s good for me to take a break and give my full attention to the study. It certainly demands my full attention.

But it sure was good to have a long night of real music and all the nourishing time that surrounds it.

Now back to that paper on the moral significance of boundaries in the Realist and Cosmopolitan traditions of Political Science…

From random blog photos

One Last Article

December 10, 2008

This nice article came out a this weekend in Blue Ridge Now. That may be my last press for a while. I guess I’m officially retired now. 😉

The farewell show

December 2, 2008

…and suddenly it’s Sunday night. My last show is no longer something I’m getting ready for. It happened. And it was a wonderful time. People came from all over. People were there from many states, including Alaska, (though I don’t think the show was the only reason for their trip). But people came from Missouri, Colorado and various other places too, and the show was the only reason for their trip. Amazing.

It was excruciating trying to decide what to play. I’ve put out ten records, and a show like last night’s starts to run a little long if you play too many more than 20 songs, so basically I left out five songs for every one I played. In the end, of course, I ignored the set list I had made and played some different songs anyway, but honestly, I don’t think it mattered too much. Playing music live, for me, is mostly about holding a space to be together for a while.

And, of course, when the show was over and I had talked with everyone who wanted to talk and signed everything that could possibly be signed, I played for another forty-five minutes or so for the folks who were still hanging around. I love playing, and I’ve had to learn over the years that it’s often better to stop than keep going.

And so I’ve officially changed my job now. I’m no longer a performing musician, since there are no performances on the calendar. Some would say I have a new vocation, given that we often use the word ‘vocation’ to mean ‘job.’ Vocation doesn’t mean job, though, it means calling. And that’s different.

There are so many ways to answer a calling. They’re not always dramatic— the sell-everything-and-move-to-Africa callings, or the quit-being-a-banker-and-go-to-seminary callings, though those count too. I’m so glad that people of compassion and vision work at banks and post offices and airports, too, and not just at churches and aid organizations.

Melissa Gutierrez, for instance, who was working at the Guatemala City airport last summer when I got stuck there due to a canceled flight and had to get to San Jose to speak at a huge gathering. After dealing with a long line of other frustrated passengers she took forty minutes with me trying to find a way to get me there on time, and in the end she did. She went far beyond the call of duty and changed my life significantly.

I was on my way to speak to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, the governing conference that meets every two years to decide on the policies and positions of the church. They invited me to spend an hour speaking to the thousand commissioners (the ones who cast the votes to make those decisions) right before they went to do their committee work. In that hour I played three songs, but mostly I shared some thoughts on how it is that we go about changing the world, and what it means to be faithful in that effort.

My plan had been to get home to NC, drop my Guatemala gear, get my suit, guitar and drum and then fly to California the next day, but as it turned out I got into California straight from Guatemala with no suit, no instruments, no sleep, and only a few hours until I had to go on. Still, somehow it all worked, and I thoroughly enjoyed the time. At the end I got a standing ovation.

I wonder whether Melissa ever got a standing ovation in her life. I wonder if anyone ever wrote her a letter to tell her how much the way she did her work meant to them. I wrote one heck of a letter to the airline, I assure you, but honestly it didn’t occur to me to write to her as well.

Most of us just don’t get that kind of appreciation.

And then there’s me. I’ve been aware for a long time that I get much more than my share of it. And it certainly feels good to be appreciated. I’m not saying I should have less of that, but that so many people should have more.

And when it comes to vocation, to calling, it’s not about applause, it’s about doing what you were put on the planet to do. I don’t believe that’s a simple answer for most of us. I don’t think there’s one calling that sums us up. I think we have many vocations, some big and some little, some dramatic and some generally unnoticed.

I’m switching my work now. I’m turning my focus to peace work, and for the next year and a half I’ll be a student of peace making. I’d like to think that my vocation isn’t changing, though. I’ve always tried to use music to remind others and myself of our connectedness and commonality, and increasing empathy is a huge component of peace work.

My sister Margaret owned a design company for a while and studied professional photography, but felt called to become a minister, and needed to answer that call. She was happy before but it became clear to her that this was what God wanted from and for her. My brother John did remodeling and construction and owned a painting company, but it turns out he has a real gift for caring for elderly people in home health care, and I think he’s right where he ought to be doing that work today. My sister Kathy has done a ton of things, from generously and skillfully running my career for several years to being a professional potter, but left the life of an artist to go to Cornell law at age fifty because she’s passionate about addressing the brokenness of our death penalty system.

I think all three of them deserve a big round of applause, along with Melissa Gutierrez. And I imagine you do too.

I’ve been hearing from people in recent weeks about what my music has meant to them over the years, and I treasure every one of those notes. It’s good to know that it mattered, and it’s humbling to hear about how deeply some of these songs have connected with some of their hearts and histories.

Deanna, Mason and I had dinner with my friend Frank tonight (well, Mason actually ate later…), and at one point Frank said “If they can say at my funeral ‘We know Frank loved us,’ then my life will have been a success.” I think that’s spot-on. I guess my point is that if you wanted me to know I’m appreciated, you’ve been a success.

And I want you to know, too. The work I’ve done for the last eighteen years has been directly for you. I was an independent musician, so I’ve never worked for a record company or for a fancy agent. I was an independent contractor: I worked for the people who came to my shows and the people who bought CDs. And you’ve been a great boss.

So thank you. And farewell. Take a bow.

And good morning. And welcome. If you’re interested in staying in touch as this new adventure begins, please do. I’ll be blogging here and will always be happy to hear from you.

Words and Music

November 28, 2008

A couple of things have popped up from unexpected sources that I thought folks might like to be aware of. The ‘words’ part has to do with a couple of articles; one is in the Mountain Xpress, Asheville’s indie newspaper. It’s written by Jason Bugg, who called to interview me a couple of weeks ago. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with him and we had a great conversation, though he was candid about the fact that my music isn’t really up his alley— he’s more into punk rock. A Change Is Going to Come.

The second is in the Asheville Citizen-Times, by Carol Rifkin, a fine musician herself. It’s an interview format, : LaMotte Bids Farewell to Music, Mountains

And I got a note from my buddy Gray Brooks, who took me on a tour of the national Obama campaign headquarters. He was working at the time as campaign staff and I was in Chicago to do a couple of shows, so we caught up at a coffeehouse and then toured the offices. I gave the production people there a copy of the instrumental mixes of Change and permission to use them, and it turns out they did use one in a video. This Obama promotional video uses the instrumental version of Your Smile as the soundtrack.

Tomorrow is the last concert, so my heart is pretty full. I’ll look forward to seeing some of you there, and I’ll be grateful to the rest of you too. It’s been a good ride.


September 17, 2008

My long-time friend Kenny Legendre in Germany has been working for months on a CD of other folks doing my songs. It’s called “Spun,” in reference to my CD “Spin,” and has now been released in Europe.

Most of the musicians are German and the songs include a German translation of my song Hard Earned Smile, with the rest in English, featuring varying degrees of German accents. Some of the folks on the record are musically unknown, while others are legendary in their various countries. Ulli Brand is the guitarist for the German band Farfarello, who’ve been wowing huge crowds for decades.

There are some international contributions as well, including three US-based musicians: David Wilcox, Beth Wood and Chris Rosser, while Liz Frencham hails from Australia.

Musically, the arrangements are wildly diverse, from a choir doing New Lullaby to the rock band Knopf doing Spin, Chris Rosser’s Middle Eastern musical influences to Liz Frencham‘s jazzy upright bass and vocal.

It’s deeply moving to me to know that my music has meant enough to these folks that they have put in the time and expense to learn and record these songs.

The CD is out in Germany now, and is only available in the US through CD Baby.

Profits from the CD will go to support the work I’ve been doing with schools in Guatemala through PEG. The tracks should be up on iTunes within a few weeks, too, but the CD’s ready for shipping from CD Baby now.